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Friday, November 30, 2007

SFWA shenanigans

One of the problems of organizations that rely primarily on volunteers is that all too often, the people most prone to volunteering are the very last people you want in charge of anything. Charles Stross rightly waxes apoplectic:

The core of our report, in a nutshell, was this: SFWA should represent its members interests when asked to do so. (It should also poll the membership to figure out what they want to do.) In order to deal with members asking SFWA to act against copyright infringements, SFWA should establish a new copyright advisory committee to replace of the piracy committee, with set procedures (and a quorum of members required to implement them) to avoid anything like the earlier debacle recurring.

In addition, we made various other recommendations. (Mine included: avoid, at all costs, emulating the activities of the RIAA and MPAA. Rule #1 of being a professional writer should be: your fans are Not The Enemy. Unlike RIAA or MPAA, SFWA is actually a loose trade association of content producers — RIAA and MPAA are rather different organisms, funded by a cartel of major content distributors. Following their example would not only be disastrous and make enemies — I trust I don't have to explain why — but would rapidly bring individual writers into disrepute with their readers, something I think most SFWA members have enough brain cells to realize would be disastrous.)

A further recommendation was discussed, but the general feeling was that it would be inappropriate to put it in the committee's formal report. It was my understanding that it would be brought to the attention of the president of SFWA via a back channel. This recommendation was simple: that at all costs, Andrew Burt must be kept the hell away from the copyright committee. In view of his earlier activities, his appointment to it would automatically destroy any credibility the new body would have — not to mention sending out a clear signal that SFWA is a dysfunctional organization, institutionally incapable of learning from bad experiences.

Guess what's happened?

Yup. I am not privy to his thinking, but our dear president and executive have voted to reinstate the old piracy committee, with Andrew Burt to chair it, under the new name of the SFWA copyright committee.

To say that this is a fuckwitted decision is an understatement. Under Dr Burt, the new copyright committee will almost inevitably devolve into a reincarnation of the old piracy committee. If I thought it'd do any good I'd be resigning in protest right now; only the expense of a life membership purchased a couple of years ago is restraining me right now. Clearly the current executive of SFWA is making damaging decisions and ignoring input from committees it appointed, and and in view of this I call on SFWA president Mike Capobianco and the rest of the SFWA executive — including Andrew Burt — to resign immediately. Meanwhile, I'd like to call on all other SFWA members who don't want to see their organization commit public relations suicide to make their voices heard.

I don't think Capobianco needs to resign, but I do think he needs to encourage Burt to get his poky little nose to get out and stay out of all of the various committees and sub-committees which he seems to find so very irresistible.

The rollback begins

I predicted a backlash against the New Atheism, but I had no idea that the Pope would get involved. Interestingly, he cuts right to the heart of the materialist matter:

Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized modern-day atheism in a major document released today, saying it had led to some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known to mankind....

"We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world is not in our power," Benedict wrote. "Only God is able to do this."

It is interesting how every significant atheist idea for making the world better and reducing human suffering almost invariably ends up with a recommendation to impose murderous dictatorship on mankind. From Meslier to Marx, from de Rouvroy, to Russell, from Heinlein to Harris, the atheist solution is inevitably simplistic, brutal and devoid of positive result.

And yet they consider themselves freethinkers, apparently without any sense of irony.

The curse of intelligence

Scientific American helps explain why so many smart people are so bloody useless:

Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.

I don't think this tells the whole story, but it is a relevant element of the problem. The truth is that you can't think your way to anything; I don't think execution and hard work is 99 percent of the equation but it is more than 50 percent. I don't think the intelligent are actually any less averse to risk than the norm - the overwhelming majority of people won't lift their finger if it's not of immediate material benefit to them - I suspect that it's the realization of opportunity cost that is a larger factor among the highly intelligent. The "I wasn't trying" defense becomes pretty empty once one is pushing thirty and begins to realize that one has accomplished absolutely nothing of any note despite one's supposed intelligence.

I personally find it very difficult to concentrate on any one project for a long period of time, mostly because I get bored easily once things are past the strategic stage. I'm quite willing to work hard, but working hard at one specific thing and ignoring all the other opportunities out there is pretty much impossible for me. The problem is that as studies of the truly great have shown, it takes about ten years of near psychopathic concentration on an activity to reach a level of superlative excellence.

But the study is a real wake-up call to parents with highly intelligent children. There's nothing wrong with being open about their intelligence, trying to hide it from them merely gives them a greater sense of elitism and contempt for those who attempt to deny the obvious. (Seriously, would you ever try pretending that a tall or fast kid is just like everyone else? It's just as stupid to try to deny a child's intelligence, which is equally observable to all and sundry, including the child.) But presenting it to the child as a challenge to excel rather than a fabulous aspect of his self is more likely to foster that excellence.

Talent and intelligence are great tools. But like all tools, their utility depends completely upon how - and if- they are used.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Education is the answer

Rod Dreher seems a little stunned by the new report from the The Center of Immigration Studies:

+ Immigrants account for one in eight U.S. residents, the highest level in 80 years. In 1970 it was one in 21; in 1980 it was one in 16; and in 1990 it was one in 13.

+ Overall, nearly one in three immigrants is an illegal alien. Half of Mexican and Central American immigrants and one-third of South American immigrants are illegal.

+ The primary reason for the high rates of immigrant poverty, lack of health insurance, and welfare use is their low education levels, not their legal status or an unwillingness to work....

The report concludes that: "Even during the great wave of immigration at the turn of the 19th century, the immigrant population was much less than half what it is today." We simply are being swamped, and there should be a time out for assimilation. Yet as a liberal, Spanish-speaking friend admitted to me yesterday, in a conversation about what each side in the immigration debate is loath to admit, that on his pro-immigration side, "The uncomfortable truth is that Latino immigrants are not assimilating."

Thank the NEA that we've got all those excellent public schools with which we can bring transform all those little Garcias and Rodriguezes into productive Anglo-Saxon Americans. That'll work, right? All they really need to get caught up is a few years of indoctrination in global warming, gay rights and gender-bending. But not in English, of course. That would be ethnocentric.

I stand corrected

LBRFTHOI demonstrates statistical incompetence:

Actually, statistics bear out that well over 50%, and upwards of 70%, of all child abuse- sexual and otherwise- is committed by parents. So, as much as I hate to respectfully disagree with those being so ignorantly and vulgarly disrespectful to our public schools and their teachers, I will nonetheless do so respectfully and rationally using nothing but the numbers: statistically, it is the public school that should be worried about protecting children from parents, especially in the area of sexual violation, and not the other way around.

This would only be true if you happen to ignore the accessibility and population factors. The average parent has access to his children around sixteen hours per day. The average teacher has access to a particular child approximately one hour per day. There are also far more parents than teachers. LBRFTHOI is doing the equivalent of comparing the number of murders in the United States with South Africa and concluding that the USA is more dangerous despite its far lower murder rate per 100,000 population.

Also, if you're using "nothing but the numbers", it would be helpful to provide an actual number; a range somewhere between 50 percent and "upwards of 70 percent" is so imprecise as to approach completely meaningless.

My disrespect for the teachers and schools is hardly ignorant; I have yet to see or be informed of any reason to regard either with even the slightest bit of respect. As for the vulgar nature of that disrespect, I only seem to recall referring to the latter. But I do appreciate the notice that I have been remiss, by all means, fuck the idiots at the chalkboard who so amusingly call themselves "teachers" too.

True, that

And yet the "conservatives" at National Review won't support him:

Poor Paul [Kate O'Beirne]

So unfair to ask Ron Paul to name only three federal programs he'd eliminate.

But you have to wonder where this moron has been for the last thirty years. Yes, Seth, it does exist.

Point of Order [Seth Leibsohn]

Please all NRO readers and writers raise your hand if you've ever had any contact with or from the trilateral commission. Paul said 'it exists'. Does it? Does it really? Does it influence anything?

There's idiocy, there's lunacy, and then there's a demonstated inability to use Google. NRO should revoke the loser's Corner-posting privileges for total intellectual incompetence.

Another day, another scare


Violence depicted on television, in films and video games raises the risk of aggressive behavior in adults and young viewers and poses a serious threat to public health, according to a new study.
After reviewing more than 50 years of research on the impact of violence in the media, L. Rowell Huesmann, of the University of Michigan, and his colleague Brad Bushman concluded that only smoking posed a greater danger.

"Exposure to violent electronic media has a larger effect than all but one other well known threat to public health. The only effect slightly larger than the effect of media violence on aggression is that of cigarette smoking on lung cancer," he said in a statement.

Wolfenstein 3D and Mortal Kombat, the two games that are primarily responsible for violence in video games, were both published in 1992. That year, there were 23,760 murders in the USA which represented a murder rate of 9.3 per 100,000 population. In 2005, following more than decade of spines being ripped out with bare hands and demons being disemboweled by chainsaws, there were 16,692 murders, but the nation's larger population means that the murder rate is 5.6, a 40 percent REDUCTION.

Another day, another video game scare.

OV4: one down, four to go

TRP begins to respond:

You ask:

There are three possibilities here. Either (1)God was lying to the man about not knowing where he was, (2) He was asking rhetorical questions to which He already knew the answer, or (3) He did not know where the man was and did not know - as opposed to correctly deduced - that the man had eaten from the tree that He had commended him not to eat from. I ask TRP, which he believes to be the correct answer?

I Choose 2 - God knew where Adam was.

That's a perfectly reasonable answer, and I'll respond to it in full once TRP finishes responding to the rest of my questions. As for TRP's belief that it is normal to believe that those they disagree with are making use of the four-step process I described, that may be so, and yet I specifically deny that the charge can be credibly made in all cases. As I will demonstrate throughout the course of this debate, it cannot be reasonably applied to my particular expression of the aprevistan view. Note that I did not have to rely on those specific five verses in order to support the aprevistan case, there are literally hundreds that are equally relevant. I do, however, I also must point out for clarity's sake that unlike many omniderigistes and atheists, TRP does not deny the existence of Man's free will.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A historic day

If you're an ESPN Insider, you may be interested to know that Bill Simmons is going for the SportsNation chat record today, hoping to beat Rob Neyer's record of six hours 37 minutes. I think he's good for at least 10 hours, if he doesn't get derailed by technical difficulties.

Do me a favor and ask him if Childress should be fired or not. And ask him if we can pretty please have Randy Moss back. With a side order of Tom Brady.

How can you not want to take part in history with epic exchanges like these:

Otis (Toronto, ON): This is dedication: 1. Start your chat at the office while closing door to office and declaring a "brainstorming session" 2. Continue on the commmute home via blackberry 3. Continue chat on the home computer, taking breaks for smokes and steaks that being said, how close are we to having the Knicks banished to the WNBA?

SportsNation Bill Simmons: (12:29 PM ET ) That a boy, Otis! I like the idea of banishing the Knicks to the WNBA - Renaldo Balkman would be the 10th most attractive player in the league.

What will it take?

Iowa parents pull their children out of the public schools:

State officials in Des Moines confirmed to WND that at least 80 children whose parents were alarmed by the "Gender-Bender Day" during homecoming week at the city's East High School have moved their children from the various districts in the area into homeschooling plans. Several parents told WND that the number could be in the hundreds.

The sad thing is that their kids school could be serving cannibal lunches in the cafeteria and teaching a Red Guards curriculum straight out of the Cultural Revolution, complete with the mass murder of priests, authors and artists, and half the nominally Christian parents in America would dumbly nod their heads and say: "Well, I don't really approve of the overall direction, but my kid's school is actually pretty good. Just last year, it won an award for purging the most bourgeous elements in the faculty and at least fifty percent of the graduating seniors can actually read!"

There is no "fixing" to be done. You don't fix a poisonous snake in your child's crib, you kill it. This parent's response is the only correct one; if you still have your kids in a public school, you're just kidding yourself.

"TUESDAY AT ONE OF OUR LOCAL HIGH SCHOOLS THEY HAD WHAT IS CALLED 'GENDER BENDER DAY!' IF YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT THAT IS THEN LET ME EDUCATE YOU REAL QUICK … IT IS WHERE THE BOYS DRESS LIKE GIRLS AND VICE VERSA!! THIS WAS ALLOWED AND CARRIED OUT AT OUR SCHOOLS!!! … I IMMEDIATELY PULLED MY CHILD OUT OF THE DES MOINES PUBLIC SCHOOL! WE ARE NOW HOMESCHOOLING ALONG WITH SEVERAL HUNDRED OTHER PARENTS!"

Fuck the schools. Burn them all. Pull down the walls and sow the ruins with salt. Collective "education" was never a good idea and whatever limited utility it ever might have had is overwhelmed its negative aspects. The average child would get a better and more useful education by sitting in front of a PlayStation playing video games eight hours a day for 12 straight years than he would by attending school.

Overoptimistic

John Derbyshire's excellent three-part piece on the IQ/race issue concludes with a hopeful prognosis that this time, the intellectuals and scientists won't screw it up:

Genetic engineering? I’m sure something will come of it. It shouldn’t be that hard. Noah Millman suggests that our hopes for genetic engineering are overblown, in the way that hopes for social engineering were 100 years ago, leading to all the well-known failures of state socialism.

I disagree. To be sure, a human being, or just a human brain, is an extremely complicated thing, and we shouldn’t underestimate the scientific challenges of genetic tinkering. (I am not aware of any scientists involved in this work who do underestimate them.) A human society, though, is at the next level of complexity up, consisting as it does of millions of human beings! From the fact that we screwed up the engineering of societies (and, as Noah concedes, we didn’t make a total pig’s ear of it — we tamed the business cycle, for instance) it does not follow that we’ll screw up the engineering of the genome.

Derb's not an economist, so he may not be aware that we haven't actually tamed the business cycle, we've simply created massive amounts of money out of thin air to inflate bubble after bubble in a desperate attempt to push a massive trough out into the future. The 4.5 percent drop in housing prices last quarter - which could have been as much as 12.4 percent if inflation was being correctly accounted for - is merely one warning sign that the economy has finally reached the "pushing on a string" point.

In any case, I am quite confident that the same sort of individuals who seized on the idea of social engineering 100 years ago will rapidly come up with new and far more nightmarish applications combining genetic engineering with social engineering. I'm not sure what the best way of combatting this will be; I suspect the most important thing to keep in mind is that posthumans and machine intelligences will have no reason to think any more highly of the human elite than we do.

Hollywhore Triumvirate

I'm not a fan of his fiction, but I am definitely down with his recommendation of Britney Spears as Person of the Year. I think it should be a rotating award given out to Miss Spears, Miss Hilton and Miss Lohan until an ambitious new slutress proves herself worthy of replacing one of the Hollywhore Triumvirate. Hey, if news is nothing but what the sheep are interested in reading about, why not?

So you've got these things going on... and instead, you see a lot of this back-fence gossip. So I said something to the Nightline guy about waterboarding, and if the Bush administration didn't think it was torture, they ought to do some personal investigation. Someone in the Bush family should actually be waterboarded so they could report on it to George. I said, I didn't think he would do it, but I suggested Jenna be waterboarded and then she could talk about whether or not she thought it was torture.

And the guy says to me — the Nightline guy — I didn't get the guy's name.... he said to me, "If we didn't cover cultural things, we wouldn't be covering you and The Mist, and promoting the movie." And I'm like, "Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan aren't cultural." They aren't political. They're economic only in the mildest sense of the word... Britney Spears is just trailer trash.... And yet, you know and I know that if you go to those sites that tell you what the most blogged-about things on the Internet are, it's Britney, it's Lindsay. So I think it would be terrific [to have them as TIME Persons of the Year]. There would be such a scream from the American reading public, sure. But at the same time, it's time for somebody to discuss the difference between real news and fake news...

As for the justification of waterboarding in the linked post, I note that the same rationale which is always used to justify it and other forms of torture - what if you could save X number of people by torturing Y number of people in an urgent situtation where X > Y - could easily be used to rationalize the elimination of the Jewish people or any minority deemed overly troublesome by the majority.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why must you harsh my mellow?

From Profootballtalk:

Sean Jensen of the Pioneer Press reports that after watching his team blow out the Giants Sunday, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said that coach Brad Childress will "absolutely" be back for the 2008 season.

"There was never a question," Wilf said, making his first public comments about Childress in more than a month. "You need time for a team to coalesce and to get together. This is the ultimate team sport, and everyone has to play their part, and it will take some time. And we're doing it, and everyone is stepping up."

Lovely. Why do I suddenly get the feeling that Frazier is going to go somewhere at the end of next year and become a very successful head coach?

And on a far grimmer note, it seems that Redskins safety Sean Taylor died of his wounds today:

Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor has died, says family friend Richard Sharpstein.... Known as one of the NFL's hardest hitters, Taylor played in his first Pro Bowl last season. He is tied for the NFC lead this season with five interceptions, despite missing the past two games with a sprained knee. He did not travel with the Redskins to Sunday's 19-13 loss at Tampa Bay because of the injury.

The Redskins badly missed him against the Cowboys two weeks ago when TO lit them up for four touchdowns. It's such a shame he wasn't with them preparing for next week's game rather than home with an injury at precisely the wrong time.

Mailvox: tactics aren't enough

Yesterday's column has GS hot about the collar:

Your column "Unwinnable War" makes it quite amusing to watch you turn and turn 180 degrees now that your gloom and doom predictions for Iraq are not working out. It is NOT the "neo-conservatives" who are in a "muddle at the moment." It is the "cut and run" Democrats and neo-isolationists such as yourself that find themselves in that position. American success is bad news for you guys.

The rumors of war with Iran you spread are not going too well either, so now you are beginning to debunk those rumors too instead of admitting that you should not have spread them in the first place. Finally, you do not admit that once democracy was imposed on Germany and Japan it WAS successful. Instead you point to minor historical events that took place before Berlin and Tokyo were taken by force and democracy was imposed on them. Your sense of history comes from the footnotes.

Next week, tell us what a mess Bush made of the North Korean situation and how the Middle East talks are irrelevant too. Better yet, tell us how you ARE relevant.

This is amusing. First, I never predicted the failure of "the surge", in fact, I even wrote before General Petraeus's report that it would be portrayed and regarded as a success. What I expected, then as now, that the tactical success would prove to be irrelevant. And, indeed, there has been absolutely no improvement on the political scene while the larger strategic picture has absolutely gotten worse.

As for the "successful" imposition of democracy on Germany and Japan, I note that Germany is currently being ruled by an unelected and dictatorial Commission with zero respect for human rights and that both Germany and Japan are still being occupied more than sixty years later.

After I wrote back to GS, he responded again as follows:

Right. . .nothing was accomplished in Iraq. Therefore, Saddam Hussein must still be in power, his sons are waiting to succeed him, Iraq never had free elections, it is still threatening its neighbors, the Kurds are still getting gassed and Iraq oil is still off the market. In your view, these changes are only "tactical successes."

Worse yet, your positions are not even consistent. If the Iraq government is a "puppet regime" as you say, then why aren't they passing the laws we want passed? Their inability to get things done is not helping the "neo-conservative" cause.

And if the invasion was is nothing more than "imperialism" as you state, then shouldn't some Americans benefit from the increased supply as a result of that? Even if you argue that the American consumer will not benefit from more oil because of the evil corporate conspirators who control big oil, the American stockholders who hold shares in oil companies should benefit.

As you see it, everything is a doom and gloom twilight zone where only bad things happen. Fortunately, the percentage of American people who agree with you is about the same as the number who support the absurd and dangerous neo-isolationist foreign policy views of your heroes, Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan.

Let's count the errors here. 1) We've exchanged the secular Saddam for a Shiite mullah regime sympathetic to Iran. 2) Iraq didn't have free elections and we wrote both the rules for it as well as their "constitution". 3) The Kurds aren't getting gassed, which is good, but they are attacking our ally Turkey, which has just overwhelmingly voted an Islamic party into power. But yeah, they are pumping oil... wait, I thought this invasion was about democracy and WMD?

4) The Iraqi government is a puppet regime, it's just not an obedient one. They want to kick us out, but can't, so they're simply cooling their heels and refusing to do what we want them to do. That's why Charles Krauthammer was pleading for everyone to ignore the failed government benchmarks and pay attention to the temporary military lull instead. 5) Some Americans are benefitting, that's why the oil companies have been registering record profits over the last few years. 6) The Republicans have already lost the House, the Senate and staunch Spanish and Australian allies over the occupation, apparently they'll have to lose the White House before GS will consider the possibility that perhaps occupying Mesopotamia is not as popular a policy as he clearly believes it to be.

Only a mindless propaganda parrot could possibly examine the evidence and conclude that the views of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan are dangerous to America. Quite to the contrary, it is idiot America's failure to heed their clear and substantive warnings that is fast leading it to destruction and irrelevance.

OV3: Pick your poison

TRP has, quite naturally, asked me to provide some verses supporting my aprevistan contention that capability is not action, that God is not omniscient and that He does not have a Divine Plan which He personally micromanages down to the very smallest level of quantum detail. It is easy to comply with his request because there are so many overt and obvious examples from which to draw; unlike the omniderigistes, I have no need of keeping a list of pre-prepared verses on hand in order to avoid trapping myself in a logical corner. Instead, I merely selected one example from each of the first five books of the Bible. I note that there are literally hundreds of verses that are equally relevant and similarly supportive of the Open View position.

For the various atheists and agnostics here, I realize all of this theology will amount to nothing more than an exercise in counting average fairies per toadstool or whatever, but I encourage you to either skip the discussion entirely, or better yet, to look at it as an opportunity to better understand how to engage in theistic disputation and join it on an entirely conjectural basis. If you think it's all nonsense, that's fine, but this particular post isn't about you.

Genesis 3:8
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

There are three possibilities here. Either (1)God was lying to the man about not knowing where he was, (2) He was asking rhetorical questions to which He already knew the answer, or (3) He did not know where the man was and did not know - as opposed to correctly deduced - that the man had eaten from the tree that He had commended him not to eat from. I ask TRP, which he believes to be the correct answer?

Exodus 3:7-10
7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

In verse 9, God's statement that "now the cry of the Israelites has reached me" clearly implies that it had not reached Him prior to that moment. I ask TRP, did God previously know about their suffering prior to hearing that cry? And at which point did He become concerned about their suffering, prior to hearing that cry or as a result of it?

Leviticus 18 24-28
24 "'Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

I ask TRP, is this prophetic warning an if/then statement or not? Was it possible for the Israelites to not defile the land and therefore not be driven out? If not, then why did God pretend to offer the Israelites a choice when He was actually planning to cause them to defile the land and cause it to vomit them out?

Numbers 3:12-13
12 "I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman. The Levites are mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the LORD."

The significance here requires a reference to Exodus 12:23. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

Now, who struck down the firstborn, the LORD or the destroyer? Are the LORD and the destroyer one and the same? This is an extremely important question, as it cuts to the very heart of the sovereignty issue and has important ramifications for the capacity/action aspect of the debate as well.

Deuteronomy 1:26-43

Rebellion Against the LORD
26 But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. 27 You grumbled in your tents and said, "The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. 28 Where can we go? Our brothers have made us lose heart. They say, 'The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.' "

29 Then I said to you, "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. 30 The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."

32 In spite of this, you did not trust in the LORD your God, 33 who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go.

34 When the LORD heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: 35 "Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, 36 except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly."

37 Because of you the LORD became angry with me also and said, "You shall not enter it, either. 38 But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. 39 And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. 40 But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. [a] "

41 Then you replied, "We have sinned against the LORD. We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us." So every one of you put on his weapons, thinking it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 But the LORD said to me, "Tell them, 'Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.' "

43 So I told you, but you would not listen. You rebelled against the LORD's command and in your arrogance you marched up into the hill country. 44 The Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you; they chased you like a swarm of bees and beat you down from Seir all the way to Hormah. 45 You came back and wept before the LORD, but he paid no attention to your weeping and turned a deaf ear to you.

Did the people of Israel rebel against the Lord's command or not? Was it God's will that they rebel against Him or was it their will? Was it God's original plan for Moses and the people of Israel to enter Canaan or did He always intend for them to die in the desert? Was God genuinely angry, or was He merely pretending to be angry for the purpose of making the puppet show seem more convincing to the puppets whose strings He was pulling?

UPDATE - TRP requests a clarification:

Do you actually believe that God CAN do this? Do you believe he DOES do this?

Assuming he's referring to 1 Samuel 2: 6-8, my answer to the first question is yes. My answer to the second question is yes, occasionally.

VPFL Week 12


100 Cranberry Bogs
78 W.C. Silver Spooners

92 Mounds View Meerkats
29 Black Mouth Curs

75 Village Valkyries
57 Greenfield Grizzlies

69 Winston Reverends
54 Masonville Marauders

66 Burns ICU
62 East Mesa WhiteTrash

I'm not out of it yet. The team that no one wants to face has put together three straight wins; despite being in eighth place the Meerkats have the second-most points in the league, 116 more than the fourth-place Valkyries. It's unlikely I can make it to the playoffs even if I win out, but we'll do our best to finish at .500 anyhow.

In other news, Burns finally managed to grab its second win over the ex-champions, who are fading fast and have fallen out of playoff position for the first time all season. Cranberry is looking like the team with the hot hand, although Masonville should cruise to the number-one seed with the help of a timely trip to the ICU. Masonville, Cranberry and Winston all look like they'll make the playoffs, the Valkyries and Grizzlies will be pulling hard for the Meerkats to knock off both the Spooners and White Trash down the stretch.

Monday, November 26, 2007

OV2: Target acquired

The Responsible Puppet responds exactly as expected:

There is some irony here in that Vox is slow to give his own bible verses. The passages referred to above do not in any way prove that his interpretation is true, he can only use them to show that his interpretation is possible.

I ask Vox – how many Bible passages do you want? You can find them more than a few in my “Both Ways” category and I will be giving more presently. But I send the challenge back.

Please show me the ‘outright demonstrations’ where God is not actively managing what goes on in our world.... I am interested to see which approach you will take.

But to show that I know the requirement to use Bible verses goes both ways, here is a passage that we studied in our Adult Sunday School Class yesterday: 1 Samuel 2: 6-8

6 “The LORD brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave [c] and raises up.
7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
“For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’s;
upon them he has set the world.

This says that God has controls how much wealth individual people have.

Does it really? Because in order for this passage to say what TRP is concluding from it, we would have to observe that every single individual poor person is raised from the dust and that all of the world's needy are seated with princes. And yet, we can observe that this is manifestly not the case, especially since Jesus Christ informed us that the poor would always be with us, not sitting with princes in what one can only imagine to be a series of extremely overcrowded court rooms.

The point is that that the quoted verses only state what God CAN do with regards to these subjects, not what He IS ALWAYS DOING. In other words, they are a statement about CAPACITY and not about ACTION. In fact, this is also a very good example of the very omniderigiste/atheist error that I mentioned in my first post on the matter:

1. Take a Bible verse
2. Assign a possible meaning to it.
3. Insist this is the ONLY possible meaning, even when the meaning doesn't make sense. (In this case, the problem is apparent a priori, but usually it is only evident when considered in context with other, contradictory verses.)
4. Ignore all other plausible interpretations, especially more logical and Biblically supported ones.

And allow me to correct my initial statement. TRP's response wasn't exactly what I expected. I would have thought that he knew me well enough by now to know that it is always a mistake to confuse any slowness in showing my cards with a poor or nonexistent hand.

NRO recommends TIA

National Review offers a few suggestions for the intellectual on your list:

Every Thanksgiving, National Review Online asks some regular contributors and friends for their suggestions for gift-giving for the upcoming Christmas season. This year, as often is the case, the list is book heavy — but is not without its surprises. We aim to help and hope it does....

For argumentation on the science vs. religion front, here are two books, one from each side. For believers, WorldNetDaily columnist Vox Day offers The Irrational Atheist, in which he takes on the “unholy trinity” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Good polemical stuff, with tables of atheist mass-murderers, much sneering at “scientism,” and some arresting eye-stoppers like: “Jerusalem aside, the Crusades were surprisingly irreligious.” On the other side, Cornelius J. Troost’s Apes or Angels: Darwin, Dover, Human Nature, and Race is a good survey of current understandings about human nature — including the religious component — from a coolly naturalistic, “evol-con” point of view. I wish Prof. Troost were not quite so free with exclamation points, but his book fulfills the essential condition any book on the contemporary human sciences should, if it wants to be taken seriously, viz.: it will offend Leftist blank-slaters and Rightist anti-Darwinists equally.

That was certainly a delightful surprise. I don't know if it will be possible to actually get your hands on the book before Christmas, however, since it's impossible to say when the books will ship from the publisher to the various bookstores. Books are usually available to the public well before their official publication date, but I think it's unlikely that one could get a copy before Christmas.

Anyhow, it's encouraging to learn that it's not only fellow theists who think well of the book. The only thing I should like to note is that the "arresting eyestoppers" to which John Derbyshire refers aren't there for contrarian shock value, as could be inferred from the phrase, but are fully supported in the text. For example, that statement about the Crusades to which Derb refers isn't a naked assertion, but rather an evidence-based conclusion that happens to concur with the conclusions of three historians who are generally considered to know a good deal about that particular epoch, Charles Oman, Steven Runciman and John Julius Norwich.

Anyhow, if you're an atheist or science blogger who is interested in reviewing the book, just send me an email expressing your willingness to write a review and I'll arrange to have an electronic review copy sent to you when the book comes out.

A journalist dreams of a Blogocaust

Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia News, like most journalists, is a maleducated moron who thinks he's much more intelligent than he actually is. But he has managed to take the suicidal dead-tree journalist's impulse for self-immolating sallies into the blogosphere to impressive new heights:

The only positive thing I can think of about Hitler’s time on earth–I’m sure he would have eliminated all bloggers. In Colonial times, bloggers were called “Pamphleteers.” They hung on street corners handing them out to passersby. Now, they hang out on electronic street corners, hoping somebody mouses on to their pretentious sites. Different medium, same MO. Shakespeare accidentally summed up the genre best with these words from a MacBeth soliloquy: “. . .a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. . .”

This is hilarious, especially considering that those "Colonial Pampleteers" were actually the immediate precursors of modern newspapers and, eventually, so-called, self-styled "professional journalists", not bloggers. How many more journalists need to get their heads handed to them by better-educated, smarter and more knowledgeable bloggers before they begin to realize that neither the power nor the technology curve is on their side?

I particularly enjoyed Conlin's subsequent insistence that his dead friend having been a Jew somehow insulates him from his rhetorical dreams of blogocaust. How very convenient for him that the witness for this close, antisemitism-nullifying relationship isn't available to testify for the defense... and besides, do you know who else liked dead Jews? Hitler. It seems to escape this eminent journalist that it's not the mere invocation of the dread H-word which is the problem here, but the fact that he's fantasizing about the murder of literally hundreds of thousands of people. Still, the ironic truth is that he's almost surely right about Hitler's opinion of the blogosphere. It's not as if the elites in either the Republican or Democratic parties, or, for that matter, the nation's editorial boards, are particularly keen on it either.

In defense of Ron Paul

Jonah Goldberg writes an unexpected and effective defense of Ron Paul while succinctly explaining the essential problem with Mike Huckabee:

Let's even say that Paul has the passionate support of the Legion of Doom, that his campaign lunchroom looks like the "Star Wars" cantina, and that many of his top advisors actually have hooves.

Well, I would still find him less scary than Mike Huckabee.

One is a culturally conservative libertarian. The other is a right-wing progressive. Whatever the faults of the man and his friends may or may not be, Paul's dogma generally renders them irrelevant. He is a true ideologue in that his personal preferences are secondary to his philosophical principles. When asked what his position is, he generally responds that his position can be deduced from the text of the Constitution. Of course, that's not as dispositive as he thinks it is. But you get the point.

As for Huckabee -- as with most politicians, alas -- his personal preferences matter enormously because ultimately they're the only thing that can be relied on to constrain him. In this respect, Huckabee's philosophy is conventionally liberal, or progressive. What he wants to do with government certainly differs in important respects from what Hillary Clinton would do, but the limits he would place on governmental do-goodery are primarily tactical or practical, not philosophical or constitutional.

This is the most important aspect of libertarian philosophy. Even if you seriously disagree with another libertarian, you can support him without reserve, since he is committed to not using the power of the state to compel you. Huckabee offers nothing more than a repeat of the George W. Bush fiasco. Jonah's electoral analysis is inaccurate; it's thrown off by his underlying belief that support for the occupations is somehow a vote-winner, but his reasoning here is sound.

UPDATE - Bob Novak also concludes that Huckabee is no conservative, but rather an advocate of strong, intrusive government cut from the Bush the Younger mode:

Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans.... Quin Hillyer, a former Arkansas journalist writing in the conservative American Spectator, called Huckabee "a guy with a thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak." Huckabee's retort was to attack Hillyer's journalistic procedures, fitting a mean-spirited image when he responds to conservative criticism.

All I need to know is that the guy supports smoking bans. If you seriously advocate that sort of idiocy, you've obviously got an anything-goes attitude towards government rule. I wonder how long it will take Joe Carter to see through the Huckster and drop him?

A potential derailment

As I wrote in September, it's not actually news that Hillary isn't normally oriented. But given how tightly this has been kept under wraps and how obediently protective the media - both "conservative" and mainstream - has been of this oft-testified fact, it's interesting to see how rumors of her and her omnipresent aide have begun to surface in the international press. It seems increasingly probable that the Hillary and Huma scandal is the one upon which the Los Angeles Times has been sitting, about which so many rumors have been flying.

It would be a very, very interesting development if it turns out that the Internet has developed to the point that not even the united efforts of the conventional media suffice to kill a politically explosive story. Because for all the inevitable protestations about how sex is no one's business and shouldn't be a factor, Hillary would neither be the first nor the last political candidate to be sunk by her poor judgment in these matters.

A few weeks ago, Ron Rosenbaum reflected on the media's culpability in protecting the unnamed candidate in the same way they protected FDR and Kennedy:

Now, as I say it’s a rumor; I haven’t seen the supporting evidence. But the person who told me said it offhandedly as if everyone in his world knew about it. And if you look close enough you can find hints of something impending, something potentially derailing to this candidate in the reporting of the campaign. Which could mean that something unspoken, unwritten about is influencing what is written, what we read.

Why are well wired media elite keeping silent about it? Because they think we can’t handle the truth? Because they think it’s substantively irrelevant? What standards of judgment are they using? Are they afraid that to print it will bring on opprobrium. Are they afraid not printing it will bring on opprobrium? Or both?

But alas if it leaks out from less “responsible” sources. then all their contextual protectiveness of us will have been wasted.

From the way Rosenbaum described it, the rumor could apply to either Obama or Clinton, although there has certainly been lots of talk of late about Hillary losing both Iowa and New Hampshire. We already know it's about a Democrat, otherwise the media wouldn't have been keeping their lips sealed in the first place. But I still think he was probably referring to the lid finally coming off of Hillary Clinton's Wellesleyan ways.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Discuss amongst yourselves

What do you think of the revised look? I've been wanting to add a second column for some time now, and finally managed to get around to it during the Bears-Broncos game. I'll be adding one or two new sections, but in the meantime I just wanted to make sure that all of the previous functionality was preserved.

If people with narrower screens are having a problem, let me know and I can reduce the middle area somewhat.

Totalitarians R US

As if the militarization of the police and their non-stop no-knock invasions weren't bad enough:

News Chopper 2 had a Local 2 Investigates team following the aircraft for more than one hour as it circled overhead. Its wings spanned 10 feet and it circled at an altitude of 1,500 feet. Operators from a private firm called Insitu, Inc. manned remote controls from inside the fleet of black trucks as the guests watched a live feed from the high-powered camera aboard the 40-pound aircraft.

"I wasn't ready to publicize this," Executive Assistant Police Chief Martha Montalvo said. She and other department leaders hastily organized a news conference when they realized Local 2 Investigates had captured the entire event on camera....

Montalvo told reporters the unmanned aircraft would be used for "mobility" or traffic issues, evacuations during storms, homeland security, search and rescue, and also "tactical." She admitted that could include covert police actions and she said she was not ruling out someday using the drones for writing traffic tickets.

Or, you know, firing Hellfire missiles at the homes of reported drug dealers. That would work too. You know, for the children.

NFL Week 12

Open season on this week's NFL games. I'm really just hoping that Adrian Peterson doesn't play today. I don't think we can beat the Giants either, but that's really a secondary consideration at this point.

On obscurity and significance

Isaac finds humor in my failure to be impressed by a few atheist writers:

[Vox Day], author of obscure Christian fantasy novels calling PB Shelley, Saramago, Primo Levi, Lichtenberg, Stanislaw Lem, and Largerkvist literary lightweights?

Yep. They don't exactly rank with Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Calvino or Goethe, do they? They don't even rank with MacDonald, Tolkein, Hesse or Fitzgerald. I should have specifically mentioned Shelley in my list of exclusions, however, as I like his poetry and he was very influential, although I suspect his biography remains an important factor in both his popularity and his influence.

Of course, it is ironic to note that Lem is famously known for having publicly agreed with my generally low opinion of science fiction's literary qualities. It's only that I don't think his stuff is particularly great either.

I am on the floor laughing.

Hey, enjoy it while you can. It seems timely to mention here that one philosopher, with whom I am unfamiliar but who is apparently well-regarded in some intellectual circles, recently declared that TIA significantly raised the intellectual level of the entire religion-atheism debate. Now, perhaps he'll be alone in his opinion once the book comes out, on the other hand, I'm still pretty young by literary standards.

Out of curiosity, have you ever actually read either The World in Shadow or The Wrath of Angels, Isaac? Or do you simply believe that obscurity is somehow fundamentally incompatible with literary significance? I have to mention, I'm always amazed at how many complete strangers enjoy informing me that I'm obscure... and in a culture where fame is increasingly predicated on one's predilection for exposing one's genitalia to photographers. Obviously I'm going about this ALL wrong!

What I find alternatively irritating and amusing is the outright bias in the science fiction and fantasy genre, where writers who are doing little more than writing bad ripoffs of Tolkein and Lewis refuse to even consider flipping through anything with a similarly overt Christian perspective. Seriously, nearly every SF reviewer I ever contacted openly refused to even look at the EW books and I would bet that there is only a single member of SFWA who has read all three of them. (And no, I'm not including myself.) Now, that's certainly their perogative, but one can't reasonably cite a lack of literary praise as a strike against a collection of books that the critics simply will not read.

In any case, my shortcomings as a creative writer have very little, if anything, to do with my criticial faculties as a reader.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Oh nos!

PZ recommends pulling all the atheist writers out of our shelves after hearing that the execrable Philip Pullman's work could possibly be tossed out of a few Catholic libraries in Canada. But should we regard that as a threat or a promise?

It's just atheism that spurs this objection. I think we ought to run with it. The school board didn't go far enough. Let's purge school libraries of all books by atheists.

Look at his list. What a bunch of literary lightweights! I'll admit, I have a soft spot for Asimov and Adams, mostly because I thought they were really great when I was in junior high. Try to read Asimov's novels as an adult without cringing... it's tough since he has about as much interest in character development as the director of a movie based on a 3D shooter starring an inarticulate pro wrestler. Love Paglia and Pratchett, but both are one-trick ponies. Arthur C. Clarke was an SF giant and wrote one great novel and several great short stories, but he's hardly Dostoevsky. Can't stand Vonnegut, Harrison or Hoellebecq, and Dave Barry is mildly amusing but it would be a toss-up as to who is the most dreadful stylist, him, Harris or Rand. Rushdie isn't bad, he's just massively - MASSIVELY - overrated.

The only two I'd take very seriously are Mieville and Leopardi, both of whom are intelligent and genuinely talented writers, but possess[ed] seriously screwed-up minds. And their inclusion here is a little amusing, given how the overt socialism of the former and the overt nihilism of the the latter are two things from which atheists usually do their level best to disassociate themselves.

"This is going to greatly thin out the science fiction section of the library", PZ notes. That's very true, he could probably add eighty percent of the current membership of SFWA to his list, but it is the atheism pervading science fiction and modern fantasy that is a primary factor in keeping both subgenres banished to a much-disrespected literary ghetto. I'm not the only one who has noticed; even the aforementioned atheist Paglia has publicly commented upon the negative effect of atheism on the arts.

Why shouldn't any library ditch Pullman if it wants to anyhow, especially if it's a Catholic one? His books have no more inherent right to a place there than do my overtly Christian novels.

While there are actually some very good atheist writers, past and present, all this post actually demonstrates is that either the Wikipedia editors or our friendly community college professor have the reading habits of a teenager... assuming PZ actually reads anything outside of atheist cheerleading and tentacle porn. I mean, if you're writing about sci-fi and atheism, how do you come up with Lem while leaving out Heinlein?

Another neocon casualty

President Bush's broad swath of electoral destruction isn't limited to domestic politics:

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard suffered a humiliating defeat Saturday at the hands of the left-leaning opposition, whose leader has promised to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdraw Australia's combat troops from Iraq.

Labor Party head Kevin Rudd's pledges on global warming and Iraq move Australia sharply away from policies that had made Howard one of President Bush's staunchest allies....

"The United States and Australia have long been strong partners and allies and the president looks forward to working with this new government to continue our historic relationship," said Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman. "During his time as prime minister, Mr. Howard served the people of Australia well by pursuing policies that led to strong economic growth and a commitment to keeping Australians safe by fighting extremists and their ideology around the world."


The election was an embarrassing end to the career of Howard, Australia's second-longest serving leader. As little as a year ago, Howard had appeared almost unassailable. But on Saturday he was in real danger of becoming only the second sitting prime minister in 106 years of federal government to lose his own seat in Parliament.

Very little has changed on the so-called global warming front in the past year, so the likely conclusion is that, like the Republican loss of the House and Senate in 2006, the Australian Prime Minister is another casualty of the neocons' Grim Struggle Against Victorious Elections.

The amazing thing is how many intelligent Republicans whose political judgment I usually respect continue to behave like functional idiots in insisting on continuing to support this political suicide pact. It will be interesting to see their response after they lose the White House as well as the House and Senate. Will they finally wake up, or will they follow the neocons's lead and leap onto Hillary's bandwagon?

UPDATE - Mary Steyn fails to note the obvious:

Of all the doughty warriors of the Anglosphere, Howard, his Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and their colleagues had the best rhetoric on the present war, and I often wished the Bush Administration had emulated their plain speaking.

And now they're booted out of power... such an unlooked-for surprise!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The purloined ideology


Arno Lustiger, a Jewish historian and Holocaust survivor, has started proceedings to sue the magazine's German edition for publishing an interview with Horst Mahler, the former left-wing extremist who transformed into one of Germany's most rabid neo-Nazi public figures. The interview appeared in the Nov. 1 print and online editions.

Filed Nov. 7 and released to the public on Nov. 21, the suit notes that Mahler denied and belittled the Holocaust, which is illegal in Germany.

The media continues to be mystified how so many left-wing extremists have magically transformed themselves into Fascists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis and Neocons. It never seems to occur to them that this is because Fascists, Nazis, Neo-Nazis and Neocons are all variants of a basic left-wing ideology which is dependent upon large and powerful central governments harboring expansionary ambitions.

Evolution in action

Envirofreaks are the new Skoptsi:

Incredibly, so determined was she that the terrible "mistake" of pregnancy should never happen again, that she begged the doctor who performed the abortion to sterilise her at the same time.

He refused, but Toni - who works for an environmental charity - "relentlessly hunted down a doctor who would perform the irreversible surgery.

Finally, eight years ago, Toni got her way.

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

Now if we can just convince the feminists to follow suit - you know, for the planet - we can eliminate this equalitarian problem in a generation.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

It's been a strange year this year, with many ups and downs, but I am thankful to God for many things. This year, I'm particularly grateful for being able to see out of both eyes, for the daily joys of my family, and for the chance to be involved in so many diverse and interesting pasttimes.

I'm also deeply appreciative of the VP Ilk, as the various challenges so often posed here by friends and occasional foes alike tend to inure me against the temptation to sink into intellectual sloth. I'm also thankful for my extraordinarily open-minded publisher, BenBella Books, who informed me yesterday that TIA had gone to the printers earlier that afternoon.

So, in that light it seems only right that I should open the Responsible Puppet's long-awaited discussion of the Open view of God by posting a brief excerpt from TIA which happens to relate to this subject. This excerpt is far from my complete word on the matter, as the Open view is only tangentially relevant to my response to a specific New Atheist argument and is barely touched upon in TIA, but it should nevertheless serve to get this conversation rolling.

The Contradiction of Divine Characteristics

In a chapter considering the arguments for God’s existence, Richard Dawkins muses briefly upon what he considers to be a logical contradiction. He writes:

Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can’t change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent.

As Dawkins surely knows, this is a silly and superficial argument; indeed, he follows it up with a little piece of doggerel by Karen Owens before promptly abandoning the line of reasoning in favor of a return to his attack upon Thomas Aquinas. While the argument appears to make sense at first glance, it’s merely a variation on the deeply philosophical question that troubles so many children and atheists, of whether God can create a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it.

First, it is important to note that the Christian God, the god towards whom Dawkins directs the great majority of his attacks, makes no broad claims to omniscience. Although there are eighty-seven references to the things that the biblical God knows, only a single example could potentially be interpreted as a universal claim to complete knowledge.

Among the things that God claims to know are the following: He knows the way to wisdom and where it dwells, he knows the day of the wicked is coming, he knows the secrets of men’s hearts, he knows the thoughts of men and their futility. He knows the proud from afar, he knows what lies in darkness, and he knows what you need before you ask him. He knows the Son, he knows the day and the hour that the heavens and the earth shall pass away, he knows the mind of the Spirit and that the Apostle Paul loved the Corinthians.
He knows who are his, he knows how to rescue godly men from trials, and perhaps most importantly, he knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.

The only straightforward claim to omniscience is made on God’s behalf by the Apostle John, who clearly states “he knows everything.” However, the context in which the statement is made also indicates that this particular “everything” is not intended to encompass life and the universe, but rather everything about human hearts. Not only does this interpretation make more sense in light of the verse than with an inexplicable revelation of a divine quality that appears nowhere else in the Bible, but it is also in keeping with many previous statements made about God’s knowledge.

After all, when Hercule Poirot confronts the murderer in an Agatha Christie novel and informs the killer that he knows everything, the educated reader does not usually interpret this as a statement that the Belgian detective is confessing that he is the physical manifestation of Hermes Trismegistus, but rather that he knows everything about the crime he has been detecting.

In keeping with this interpretation, Dr. Greg Boyd, the pastor at Woodland Hills Church and the author of Letters to a Skeptic, has written a book laying out a convincing case for the Open View of God, which among other things chronicles the many biblical examples of God being surprised, changing His mind, and even being thwarted. Moreover, it would be very, very strange for a presumably intelligent being such as Satan to place a bet with God if he believed that God knew with certainty what Job’s reaction to his torments would be.

The verse mentioned above is 1 John 13:18 which states: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

And in answer to his two questions:

(1) I have no idea, I've never counted.
(2) A significant rewriting of the Bible which eliminates all of the many obvious implications and outright demonstrations that God is not actively managing every single Earthly event and individual action.

There is a strange similarity between omniderigistes and the New Atheists. Both groups take a small number of specific Bible verses, assign one reasonable interpretation to them, and then argue that it is the only possible interpretation in defiance of numerous equally possible alternatives that are better supported by historical facts, logic and other Bible verses.

The omniderigent interpretation of "sovereignty" is a good case in point. One of the Puppet's commentors asked "What does it mean “to reign” if it doesn’t mean to exercise active control over creation?" I ask in return, is that really supposed to be a serious question? Queen Elizabeth II indubitably reigns over England, does she exercise active control over every event and action in her realm? As anyone who knows the first thing about every single sovereign in human history should recognize, references to God's sovereignty over His Creation are a much stronger argument AGAINST the omniderigent view than they are one for it.

But regardless of one's view of the matter, today is an excellent day to thank Him for His many blessings.

Underwhelmed

Despite being a massive advocate of ebooks, I am utterly unimpressed by Amazon's Kindle. While I welcome Amazon's interest in making ebooks more commercially viable, I have no interest in books being converted into a service.

I already have thousands of books and thousands of ebooks, the idea of having to pay to access them when I can simply fire them over Bluetooth from my laptop into my Treo is ludicrous. Also, having carried around my Alphasmart Dana for 18 months prior to switching to Treo, I can attest that having an ebook reader that fits in your pocket is far more useful than one that is actually the size of a book. And basing everything around DRM... please. No one on Earth wants to pay for a subscription to a free blog, although some of the newspaper subscriptions are probably a good deal, assuming that you are one of the aging dinosaurs who still actually read newspapers.

I think Amazon's approach is incoherent, as it is positioning this primarily as a service for a gadget crowd that really doesn't need it. We already have better ways of reading ebooks and we know how to get around DRM, so there isn't likely to be a significant market there once the "hey, shiny!" factor wears off. I fully expect Apple to come out with something in the next year that is smaller, prettier, more colorful and capable of appealing to the non-early adopting masses in much the same way that those wretched iMacs did.

It should be somewhere between the size of a Treo and a Kindle, use all of the various proprietary and non-proprietary formats and have a various easy means of loading books both wireless and mini-SD. Ideally, it would also have a phone in it, as my Treo has made me allergic to carrying multiple devices. There should be two versions, one with a keyboard and one without, so that those who require email/Internet can have it and those who can get by without typing anything can have a smaller device.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

First Childress, now this

The sens and dattirs of Norway are reeling:

“This is a bit of a slap in the face,” Janet Rog, 74, said of Norway’s recent announcement that it would shut its career consulate here [in Minneapolis] next year and send the diplomats home.

The consulate, opened in 1906 and upgraded in 1946 to its current status as consulate general, is a point of pride for the Upper Midwest, which is home to more Norwegian-Americans than any other region of the country.

On a brighter note, perhaps Somalia will consider opening one soon.

The disappearing Dutchman

Multiculti foolishness squared:

One was a Somali refugee, the other an Argentine investment banker. Both are now high-profile Dutch women challenging this country to rethink its national identity. Princess Maxima, the Argentine-born wife of Crown Prince Willem Alexander, triggered a round of national soul-searching with a speech last month about what exactly it means to be Dutch in an age of mass migration.

"The Netherlands is too complex to sum up in one cliche," she said. "A typical Dutch person doesn't exist."

How to destroy a nation in three easy steps:

1. Grant universal suffrage.
2. Permit mass migration. At least they got the term correct for once, it's not "immigration".
3. Act surprised when your society is transformed beyond all recognition.

Actually, you can skip that last step if you want to, but an awful lot of people seem to require it given their unthinking embrace of steps (1) and (2). If a traditional Dutch person doesn't exist anymore, it's because traditional Dutch society has been destroyed.

Leaving science in the dust

Strangely enough, my understanding of evolution would appear to have been somewhat in advance of Scott Hatfield's:

In fact, the current hum-sci buzz is that a groundbreaking new paper is about to come out, authored by some big names in biology, arguing that not only has natural selection been at work through human history, it has actually been accelerating.

Suddenly that question about the average rate of TENS doesn't look quite so clueless anymore, does it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Let's get this settled

The Supreme Court finally threatens to show its cards:

The Supreme Court said Tuesday it will decide whether the District of Columbia can ban handguns, a case that could produce the most in-depth examination of the constitutional right to "keep and bear arms" in nearly 70 years.

The justices' decision to hear the case could make the divisive debate over guns an issue in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.

The government of Washington, D.C., is asking the court to uphold its 31-year ban on handgun ownership in the face of a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the ban as incompatible with the Second Amendment. Tuesday's announcement was widely expected, especially after both the District and the man who challenged the handgun ban asked for the high court review.

I don't really care which way they decide. If the individual rights are confirmed, as they obviously should be, then let the legal rollback begin. And if they are denied, then at least everyone will know what the score is....

However, I suspect they've already got a weaselly solution in mind that lets them strike down the ban without providing a substantive justification for overturning the 20,000 gun laws around the country. That's all I expect to come of it, anyhow.

Darwin and the dead eohippus

I can't help but wonder if a recent exchange of emails with Mr. Derbyshire might have had a little bit to do with this post:

I've been predicting for a while now that the champions of human exceptionalism will give up on bashing poor old Chuck Darwin and migrate to neuroscience and "Consciousness Studies," where the pickings are richer, and there are real mysteries defying our present understanding.... My prediction is coming true, though: For folk who want to rail against materialism, beating up on Darwin will soon be old hat—flogging a dead eohippus, so to speak. Neuroscience is where the action is, for human-exceptionalism affirmers and deniers both.

My publisher and I have pretty much reached an agreement upon what my next book is going to be, and it's not going to be anything related to dating or the media. I finally decided that I'm really not interested enough in either issue to do the level of research I require of myself; I may despise the various media whores but they'll be gone soon enough and ten years from now we won't even remember who half of them were.

I can't announce a title as yet, but I can say that the subject will be anthropeschatology. I'm interested on that area where science, religion, technology and philosophy all intersect, and the book is based in part upon my experience with artificial intelligence.

It's kind of strange being at that point when you're not only done with the book but have largely put it mentally behind you, while almost no one knows anything about it. I have been pleased, however, to learn that those few who have read TIA appear to think rather well of it, theists and atheists alike. I'll try to post some of the comments here when we're coordinating the surge around the release date.

UPDATE - speaking of TIA, this is rather nice. In the book, I wrote critically of Sam Harris's position on stem cells and pointed out that a significant portion of his Letter to a Christian Nation was already outdated and irrelevant based upon new developments in stem cell-related research. This confirms that I was correct to do so:

Two prominent scientific journals—Science and Cell—are each today publishing papers that demonstrate extraordinary success with a technique called “somatic cell reprogramming.” Working separately, and using slightly different methods, these two teams (one of which is led by James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, the original innovator of human embryonic stem cells) have each successfully taken a regular human skin cell and transformed it into what appears to be the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell—all without the need for embryos, or eggs, or any other ethically controversial methods.

VPFL Week 10


104 Black Mouth Curs
64 Cranberry Bogs

83 Masonville Marauders
61 East Mesa White Trash

79 Greenfield Grizzlies
50 Winston Reverends

65 W.C. Silver Spooners
40 Burns ICU

59 Mounds View Meerkats
58 Village Valkyries

Yikes! I thought I had the game well in hand when TO suddenly exploded for four touchdowns. Fortunately, the New England defense and Wes Welker bailed me out, no thanks to Tom Brady who insisted on throwing to Randy Moss. Masonville is showing itself to be the class of the league, pounding the defending champions, but speaking as last season's regular season leader, that means little in the playoffs.

Cranberry's got less to complain about, as at least their VPFL-leading point total has them in playoff position. I'm only two games out now, however, so I have a very remote shot if I can win out over the next four weeks. Burns, on the other hand, would be well-suited for the draft next year; if only they hadn't traded their first-round pick to Bill Belicheat in return for the Titans DEF.

Paul 2x Thompson

CNN New Hampshire poll:

Romney 33%

McCain 18

Giuliani 16

Paul 8

Huckabee 5

Thompson 4

He's got more money than McCain, looks to pound Thompson in one of the first actual votes, but still isn't supposed to be an "electable" candidate? This says far more about the mainstream media and its conservative hangers-on than it does about Ron Paul.

Now, I think polls are inherently worthless. Did Bush really make up a 17-point deficit to Dukakis in 1988 or was that ephemeral lead just dukaka in the first place? I believe the latter. But Republicans who have been trying very, very hard to ignore Paul on the sole basis of what the polls say are really showing themselves to be completely unprincipled hypocrites as Paul continues to gain ground and raise money.

Notice how some of them who said they loved Paul's ideas, but considered him to be unelectable are suddenly finding faults with him now that he's proving to be more competitive than their previously favored candidates.

Monday, November 19, 2007

But what if they're not happy?

Jennifer Morse on The Boyfriend Problem:

The bottom line: the most dangerous person in a child's life, the person most likely to abuse a child, is his mother's cohabiting boyfriend. Not the biological father. The feminists and their political allies have driven biological married fathers out of the home. Feminists have convinced women that marriage is dangerous to them. The opponents of marriage never seem to take responsibility for the fact that the main alternative to marriage, cohabitation, is much more dangerous to women and their children.

I'm not sure whether it's more amusing or appalling at how often people and societies regularly choose to leap from a slightly warm frying pan directly into a raging furnace. It is this tendency, more than anything, that has convinced me that Man is a hopelessly irrational creature. Anyone who questions the existence of Hell on the basis of it not being a "real choice" would appear to have paid absolutely no attention to the rest of humanity and the way it has behaved throughout the entire course of his life.

Interview with Jonathan Haidt

Vox Day interviewed Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, on November 14, 2007.

What is the Happiness Hypothesis?

It's actually a title made up by the publisher before the book was finished and originally I had no idea what it might be. They were trying to convey that the book was about happiness, but it's scientific! But as I was writing the book, it turned out that there are a number of happiness hypotheses and I was able to derive a pretty good one from them. The simplest happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from getting what you want, but almost everybody knows that's not true. You get some pleasure, but it's very short-lived and then you move onto what's next. The much more widespread happiness hypothesis is that happiness comes from within, not from getting what you want but from wanting what you've got. This is very common, it's the view taken by Buddha and the Stoics, that happiness is about controlling your wants and desires.


Would that represent the S in the Happiness Formula, H=S+C+V?

It's not a true formula, it's more of a representation of the factors that matter. The S, the [biological] set point is an illustration of that. We all have kind of a set point for happiness that fits with the notion that most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be, the idea that you can't really change your level of happiness, you might as well just accept it. But positive psychology isn't quite so fatalistic, positive psychology says that there are some environmental conditions, that's the C, although those don't matter all that much. And then there's the voluntary activities, the V, the things that you can do that will change your habitual thinking patterns. That's where Seligman did his original research on optimism and this is where I think positive psychology doesn't agree with that second happiness hypothesis, it doesn't agree with any fatalistic view. You can change things. But to the extent that the V is internal, it does fit with the idea that happiness comes from within because of the importance of getting your thoughts right.

Now, the version that I came to at the end of the book, and this is what got me into the study of religion and so many other interesting things, is that happiness isn't just getting your thoughts right, it doesn't just come from within. What I concluded is that happiness really comes from between. It comes from getting the right relationships between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself. So, I think that happiness emerges when you get yourself situated in the right way, in the right kind of engagements that just turn you on. It's so easy for us to say, it's trite to say, “oh, you know something larger then yourself”. What the Hell does that mean? Does that just mean God? What does it mean? What I found in doing research for the last chapter is that there is some research on an off-switch for the self. People have the ability to shut themselves off and become part of a larger, collective group.

Religions are technologies that are evolved over millenia to do this and many religions are very effective in doing this. I'm an atheist, I don't believe that gods actually exist, but I part company with the New Atheists because I believe that religion is an adaptation that generally works quite well to supress selfishness, to create moral communities, to help people work together, trust each other and collaborate towards common ends.

This is why I now say that even though I'm an atheist, I have a lot of respect for religion, and even though I'm an Enlightenmenter, I have a lot of respect for critiques of the Enlightenment that point out all of the good things that were thrown out by the Enlightenment.


A lot of the Enlightenment and New Enlightenment figures have advocated an ethic based on happiness and suffering. How is this different than utilitarianism and how can it avoid devolving into a mere numbers game?

This is the real problem, the central problem of the Enlightenment. When you push the rationalist view to its extreme, pretty much all you have left to go on is pleasure and pain, or happiness, or some variant of utilitarianism. I think conservatives are right, there are certain things that are better off veiled. There are certain things better off not being exposed to the light. Now, to the scientist, that's a terrible thing to say and I'm not saying that science should necessarily stop. But I think if we respect and even revere our founders, if we have things that bind us together and make us proud of who we are and what our nation is, we're much better off than if we do all the careful historical research and then advertise the fact that our Founding Fathers all have warts and moral lapses.

In a sense, my view is that to be the ultimate utilitarian, in order to design a society that is ultimately best for people, you have to take a very broad view of the tremendous needs that people have for community, for reverence, for respect and for moral orientation. A narrow-minded utilitarianism strips down the universe, reduces people to mere consumers and makes this broader sense of satisfaction impossible.


I understand you were at the Beyond Belief II conference.

I didn't go to the first one, but I heard from the people who were there that this one was much calmer, much more focused on the science, much less polemical. The last one really was a big celebration of an atheist rebellion against the oppression of religion and the respect it's been accorded in society. I think the hero of the first one was Scott Atran, an anthropologist who has a much better understanding of what religion is, in particular Islam, as opposed to people like Sam Harris who just bash Islam and have no clue what it's really about. They had kind of a run-in the last time around, this time there wasn't so much of that. Richard Dawkins was not there, Sam Harris and Dan Dennett were, so religion was one of the most-discussed topics but the theme was Enlightenment 2.0 and I think we stuck to that theme.

We had some really good talks from historians about what the Enlightenment was, about how the Enlightenment did lead both to many good things about modernity as well as some terrible moral abominations. My talk was entitled “Enlightenment 2.0 requires Morality 2.0” and I was trying to make the point that morality is, in part, a team sport, it binds groups together to do combat with others, and to point out that we have no diversity within science when it comes to morality. We are all liberals, that's a problem. I asked for a show of hands and every hand went up when I asked who was left of center; one hand went up when I asked who was right of center.

I think people were receptive to the claim that to really do the Enlightenment right, to really do science right, we have to understand the biases and the problems that reason is prone to. We have to correct for them. There was one guy who was trying to rally the troops to fight the evil Templeton Foundation, which is defending religion, but I stood up and said, “Look, this is just what I'm talking about, about this team sport business.” This is very unscientific to try and rally the troops, let's look at how the Templeton Foundation actually works. If they are pressuring people to change their findings and change their research, then it's corrupt and we should all oppose them. And if not, we shouldn't.


Did they accuse you of a conflict of interest at that point?

Nobody did. Some people thanked me afterwards and said they agreed with me. I imagine people like Dennett and Harris did not, but things were perfectly cordial. There were intellectual disagreements, especially over whether religion is an adaptation and/or group selection, but my sense is that it was scientists behaving in a reasonably scientific way.


One thing that you demonstrate in The Happiness Hypothesis is that the scientific evidence increasingly appears to indicate that Man is less rational than is commonly supposed. What implications does that have for an Enlightenment that is based entirely on Reason?

It means that an Enlightenment based entirely on Reason could happen, but not on this planet, not with this species. It means that we must always be aware of how pervasive the confirmation bias is. Whatever we want to believe, we set out to look for any evidence that supports that belief. If we find even a single piece of evidence that supports what we want to believe, we feel like we're done, we've done our homework and we can now be certain about what we believe. Everyone does this, on both sides, and therefore, people disagree with each other while both being certain that they're right.

It especially means that we must be aware of the problem of moral diversity and moral teams. Whenever there is a moral team that has no moral diversity and is trying to study the other team, we can pretty much bet money – we can take 3-1 odds – that they're going to get it wrong. They can't get it right because the biasing effects of morality are so strong. So, when you have atheists studying religion, that's fine, unless they hate religion. If you have atheists who hate religion studying it, you can bet that they're going to get it wrong. Their mental software is too pervasively biased by what they want to believe.

So, part of the scientific process is to have people challenge those claims, to provide empirical tests of claims, and in most cases that ends up working pretty well. The problem with religions, of course, is that it's hard to test them. We're either comparing texts or we're comparing historical arguments, it's very difficult to do experiments. Not that the Enlightenment dream is impossible, only that we must realize the flaws of the players in it. I'm a true Enlightenmenter, I'm a secular quasi-rationalist who thinks that if everyone would learn about moral psychology and understand its limitations, we could do a lot better than we're doing now.


I'm not sure of that, but I'm an anti-Enlightenment sort.

I now respect that.


You talk about four different root causes of evil and one of them is the idea of thinking that one is good. You tie this specifically to the teaching of self-esteem that has been taking place for some time now. What does this imply for a generation that has been raised with intentionally inflated self-esteem?

There's fascinating research showing a complicated relationship between self-esteem and aggression. When crime exploded in the 1980s, the American political left went crazy for the idea that these poor kids suffered from low self-esteem and that's why they were lashing out. So, self-esteem programs were implemented and they didn't do very much. Roy Baumeister wrote a devastating critique of self-esteem research in the 1990s showing that it's not low self-esteem that leads boys to be violent, but high, unstable self-esteem. It's when you have self-esteem that's been artificially raised; you think you're great but you're really not and you kind of know it. Whenever something happens that reveals you're not great, that's when you're humiliated and that's when you're likely to lash out. It's complicated, of course, but I think Baumeister is on to something important. It's generally not good to raise people's self-esteem directly, what you want to do is provide them with skills that they can be proud of and will generate a sense of self-worth.


It is interesting that all of the various school shooters seem to have been tremendously arrogant.

That doesn't surprise me. Another thing we know about them is that they were often bullied. So, when you get arrogance combined with being bullied, then that is definitely a recipe for lashing out, especially when you have youth and testosterone combined in the same package.

I read an extraordinary book by a philosopher named Jonathan Glover, called Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. It goes through all of the various atrocities, the wars and genocides. And you realize, after looking through them all, is that the simplest formula for atrocity is the certainty that you are right combined with the belief that the end justifies the means. There are people who kill others for purely selfish motives, but when you have groups killing groups, it's rarely just selfish, it's almost always got a strong component of morality in it and it usually doesn't start from nothing, it escalates from efforts to exclude or humiliate the other group, to violence and ultimately to murder.

The combination of having a moral justification and believing that the end justifies the means, that's really the recipe for moral disaster. I think you see that in the Bush administration. The Bush administration is so certain that it's right that they will twist any law, make up any evidence and do whatever it takes. And they really believe that they are good people. They don't think they're evil, they're fighting for what they think is good. But they're so blind about the nature of morality that they end up doing terrible, terrible things.

Disarm the Negroes

The racist roots of gun control:

The Atlanta Journal ran an editorial entitled "Disarm the Negroes," endorsing the searches with comments such as "Should a collision between the races occur, it would be too late to deplore the fact that the negroes had been permitted to arm themselves."

I sense a disturbance in the Force. It's as if the heads of every gun control advocate owning a "Racism Sucks" shirt just exploded.
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